Pulling Together – it’s about purpose and trust

In my book The Learned It in Queens Communications Playbook – Winning Against Digital Distraction, I write that developing strong listening skills helps build trust and strong teams. Well, I saw that skill set in action this weekend. I attended dragon boat races at the  Dragon Boat Festival in Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, New York.

Twenty corporate, civic, and independent teams assemble from all over New York City to compete at this annual event that is based on a Chinese festival that originated in 221-206B as a day to get rid of a day for getting rid of disease and bad luck. The modern sport of Dragon Boating consists of a canoe approximately twelve meters long. It holds twenty paddlers who sit ten long and two abreast and one drummer or caller, and a sweep. The sweep stands at the back and steers. The drummer sits at the front and keeps time.

The team considers the drummer to be the heartbeat of the dragon boat. They lead the crew through a race with rhythmic drumbeats. The drumming cadence indicates the timing, speed, and frequency of paddling strokes.

Yes, the sweep at the stern of the boat is critical. The sweep steers and gives the crew tactical commands. But it’s the drummer who coordinates what’s going in.

Seeing these teams glide across the water is witnessing the characteristics of a high-performing team in action. To win, competitors must:

1.         Work together

2.         Have a joint purpose

3.         Collaborate and challenge each other

4.         Hold each other accountable to achieve results

And like many high-performing teams, they also find other ways to use their exemplary skills. In this case, it’s eating. At least in Queens, dragon boat competitors practice one of my favorite mottos: “Ya gotta eat.” Because they don’t mess around when it comes to assembling their post-race meal. I walked past tent after tent filled with table after table of hot, flavorful food.  No prepackaged box lunches for these folks! It’s Queens, after all, and food is a big part of any event. As I always say, nothing increases good listening skills than sitting down to share a fantastic meal at a shared table. And harmonious teams perform better.

Seeing all that good food and camaraderie almost made me want to sign up to be a rower at next year’s event!

Julienne B. Ryan is an applied storyteller, speaker, trainer, coach, and the author of “The Learned-It-In-Queens Communications Playbook – Winning Against Digital Distraction” She likes to find humor and irony in everyday situations and uses them to guide her clients’ communications, teamwork, and productivity!


The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in New York is an annual sporting and multicultural event held in August on Meadow Lake in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, New York to celebrate the fifth moon (or the fifth month) of the lunar calendar. In addition to providing audiences with traditional Chinese foods and performances, the festival hosts over 120 dragon boat teams from across North America, making it one of the largest dragon boat festivals in the United States. Depending on the competitive division, teams compete for cash prizes, trophies and other prizes.